Readers’ wildlife photographs

We have a special treat today: biologist Lou Jost, who works in Ecuador, sent a video and a bunch of photos of a bird that I [Jerry] didn’t even know existed. It’s surely one of the world’s most colorful and beautiful birds. Here are Lou’s notes (indented):

I’ve just had a magical bird experience which I’d like to share. I was showing our newest reserve in northwest Ecuador to a group of ornithologists and botanists, including Robert Ridgely, author of many books and field guides on Latin American birds. As we drove to our hotel after a long day in the forest, a stunning Plate-billed Mountain Toucan (Andigena laminisrostris) perched right next to the road, in perfect soft evening light. We all took hundreds of pictures and made videos as the bird regurgitated seeds, preened its plumage, and posed for us in every conceivable position.

Ornithologists Francisco Sornozo and Robert Ridgley can be heard talking while watching the bird.

Lou’s video:

This bird lives in the western Andean cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, eating fruits and small vertebrates, especially nestling birds. We also have two other mountain-toucans in our reserves: the Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan (Andigena hypoglauca) from high elevations in the eastern Andes, and the Black-billed Mountain Toucan (A. nigrirostris) from middle elevations in the eastern Andes.




I include a painting I made of the Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan, and a picture by Roger Ahlman of the Black-billed Mountain Toucan. For more info, see my post at the Ecominga Foundation.

Black-billed Mountain Toucan (photo by Roger Ahlman):


Lou’s painting of the Gray-breasted mountain toucan (if you’re a regular, you’ll know he’s an accomplished artist as well as photographer, naturalist, and biologist—both field and theoretical):


A  few notes on the plate-billed toucan from Wikipedia:

The plate-billed mountain toucan (Andigena laminirostris) is a species of bird in the family Ramphastidae. It is native to Colombia and Ecuador, where it occurs in the high-altitude humid montane forests of the Andes. It is one of five species in genus Andigena, the mountain toucans.

Other common names include plain-billed mountain-toucan, laminated mountain-toucan, and hill-toucan in English, toucan montagnard in French, Leistenschnabeltukan in German, and tucán piquiplano in Spanish.

. . . This is the most vocal of the mountain toucans, and the sexes often duet. The male makes a loud, repeating tryyyyyyyk sound and the female makes a drier t’t’t’t’t’t’t’t noise. The bird utters rattles and clicks so loud they can be heard over a kilometer away.

. . . The species is in decline because its habitat is being lost to deforestation. It is also poached for the trade in exotic birds. It is still a “fairly common” species.[1]


  1. Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Thanks Jerry! I’d like to add that there seems to be a strange convergent evolution of this same color pattern in another bird which lives in the same forest, the Toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus). See my post about this here:

    • Bruce Lyon
      Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Lou, ‘stunning’ is the correct word to use. What a fabulous bird and what lovely photos. Thanks for sharing them. In terms of mimicry, I have a vague recollection that there are examples within the toucans themselves where unrelated species have the same beak and plumage patterns. I cannot recall the details though.

      • Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        That’s right, and an excellent point. On each side of the Andes, the two largest lowland toucans mimic each other. On the east side, the White-throated Toucan and the Channel-billed Toucan are so similar that it is hard to distinguish them when they are not calling. In the lowlands on the western side of the Andes, the Choco Toucan and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan are exact mimics of each other, but both look very different from the two toucans of the eastern lowlands. This color similarity is not due to shared phylogeny: the larger of the two eastern toucans is more closely related to the larger of the two western toucans than it is to its mimic in the east.

        Thanks very much for mentioning that. I’ll add it to my post about the Toucan barbet later today. There are some other examples too.

        • Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          A taxonomic note: when the Black-mandibled Toucan is treated as two separate geographically isolated species (which I think is the best treatment), the western form that I mentioned in the above comment is called the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan.

          And pedantic capitalization note: I see Wikipedia uses the recently-adapted convention of not capitalizing proper names of birds, following the trend started, I think, by mammal people. That’s criminal abuse of language by misguided editors trying to impose arbitrary rules about form at the expense of meaning. There is a Blue Tit, and there is a blue tit; the two are NOT THE SAME. One may see a large-billed finch (any finch with an exceptionally large bill) or one may see a Large-billed Finch. There are lots of yellow warbler species, but only one Yellow Warbler. Etc.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

            What a perfectly splendid bird! Discovered at the perfect time with the perfect company in tow, as well! Beautiful pictures, Lou, and beautiful painting of course as well.

            I just love the fact that there’s a Dracula Reserve…my favorite orchid genus, but just possibly partly because of the name. 😉

            My inbox has been telling me of all the Ecominga posts I’ve missed lately. I’ve only missed them because I’m saving them for when I can really study and savor them. You’ve been uncharacteristically prolific of late, however, so I’d better get crackin’. It’s my favorite blog (this one, of course, being a website).

            • Posted July 25, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

              Thanks Diane! The weather has been so terrible that I have been largely stuck indoors, with lots of time to write…

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

            PS: I so agree about the importance of capitalizing the “official common names” of birds! With so many being descriptive–Yellow-billed this, Black-capped that–things can get confusing in a hurry!

            BTW, mammals don’t have “official common names,” do they?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 25, 2015 at 8:20 am | Permalink

              They need me on the case: fluffy toucan, regular toucan, some other kind of toucan. 🙂

        • rickflick
          Posted July 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          I’m curious about what selective advantage there would be for mimicry here?

          • Posted July 24, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

            I think the toucan is a bird feared by other birds. The Toucan-Barbet might benefit from this by scaring away other birds competing with it for fruit in a tree.

            • Dennis
              Posted July 25, 2015 at 3:07 am | Permalink

              That’s an interesting hypothesis – it could easily be tested around fruiting palms, I guess. And THANK YOU for sharing these amazing frugivore photos (& the painting; I love the moss on the branch!)

          • Posted July 24, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

            I’m writing another post on the EcoMinga Foundation blog about mimicry in toucans and other birds, where I’ll discuss a couple of other hypotheses.

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    What timing! Just yesterday, I looked up pictures of Toucans to show and explain to my three year old granddaughter.

    • Dominic
      Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Inexplicably though, this one has not got a glass of Guinness!

      • Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        Link for people going what?


        • Mark R.
          Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          Never seen that ad. Thanks, loved it. I too can Guinness do. Especially on a Friday! 😉

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

          Fun link, Grania!

          Years ago I gave my husband an anniversary card with a picture of two toucans on the front. Inside it read, “Precious and few are the moments we toucans share.”

          • merilee
            Posted July 24, 2015 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

            Cute card, Diane.

            I can’t get the other photos to open on Grania’s link. Can anyone else?

  3. Dominic
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the precise delineation of the colours extraordinary? lovely bird, remarkable plumage!

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      the plumage don’t enter into it…

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted July 24, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        I see what you did there.

  4. rickflick
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    That is absolutely breathtaking! What an experience to see this close up! Wow!
    Thank Ceiling Cat we live in the era of high definition digital film.

  5. John Crisp
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Fantastic. Another stupendous number from the blind watchmaker!

  6. Blue
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Ever since m’last years of higher education … … when I first received this “directive” for professors and professional people who are females and actually as a newly duly appointed assistant professor being admonished by my hirers that I “should” in my attire within the laboratories and the examination rooms as well as within the lecture halls: only wear their patriarchally designated power colors for women of black, charcoal, navy, beige and red … … I have done my damnedest to wear the exact hues with which these birds adorn themselves!

    This resolve (to wear fabrics and paints of whatever gorgeous colors exist and which I happened to like) was only recently reinforced after a leisurely spin around very many of the Galápagan Iles and after that then … … when hiking in June y2010, within the very same Andean mountain clouds as are the misty Ecuadorian forests of these darling critters.


    • rickflick
      Posted July 24, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      You could not have chosen a more appropriate model, in my opinion. I favor blue jeans and Khaki myself, but it’s nice to think those birds have some competition. 😎

  7. Mark R.
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I like it when RWPs feature one stunning specimen with lots of photos, background information and details. What a magnificent bird.

    Lou, you are a master at painting eyes; a very difficult task. And I love how the bromeliads accent the toucan’s beak. I think this is my favorite painting I’ve seen of yours. Kudos!

    • Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Thanks very much! The eyes take me as long to paint as the entire rest of the bird!

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        Getting that feather texture so perfect looks like it would take hours by itself!

  8. Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photos, and a beautiful painting, Lou! Well done!

    • Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Thanks! By the way, I think your painting of Angraecum sesquipedale is one of the best plant paintings I’ve seen. Loved it!

      • Posted July 24, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Lou. 🙂

        • Posted July 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          We might need to have a paint-off between the two of you…brushes at dawn? I’ll bring the coffee….


          • Mark Joseph
            Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

            Where can I buy tickets?

            • rickflick
              Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

              I’m scalping counterfeits, if that’s any good.

              • Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

                You won’t be able to counterfeit Kelly’s iridescent, gold-leaf-illuminated hand-done calligraphy on those tickets!

              • rickflick
                Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

                My set of day-glow paints won’t cut it huh?

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    “The bird utters rattles and clicks so loud they can be heard over a kilometer away.”

    Some birds are born exhibitionists, ThankCC! And thanks Lou, for such a treat!

    Since Jerry is posting, in other news research claims D. melanogaster may be self-aware.

    “Scientists at UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute placed tethered Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies in front of a digital display, on an air-supported ball, while recording multiple parts of their brain simultaneously.
    QBI’s Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen said the experiment was a virtual reality scenario where the flies had the ability to control either the position of a visual stimulus (a dark bar), or were shown replayed movies of the stimulus they were not able to control.
    “We found that when the fly is in control there is an increase in communication between brain regions, compared to when they are just responding to the very same visual stimuli replayed to them,” he said.
    Dr van Swinderen said it was known from human research that different parts of the brain needed to work together for attention and perception to occur effectively.”

    [ ]

    The control seems to be weak, controlling the environment is bound to engage more nerves, but on the other hand it is consistent with attention behavior. (Sez the layman, who couldn’t be arsed to read the paper.)

    If nothing else comes out of it, the media headline is for once an achievement:

    “The fruit fly may know it’s bugging you”. Or in LOLfly, “bzzecause I fly, I amzzz”.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

      That experimental set-up–with Drosophila, of all things–boggles the mind!

      • rickflick
        Posted July 25, 2015 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        On a human scale, it must be like running cables the size of a garden hose into your brain. Really amazing research.

  10. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink


  11. Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Lou, do you ever have prints made for sale, of your paintings? They and the photos are spectacular.

    • Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Thanks very much. I wish I did have some for sale, but I have not had time for painting lately, and all my paintings are long gone. I don’t even have one for myself. I hope to return to it some day soon, though.

      • Posted July 24, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        And I never made art prints of them, just some one-off photographic reproductions (large commercially-made prints of old slides of the paintings).

  12. Posted July 24, 2015 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    What remarkable colours! Are there any hypotheses as to why?

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Such fluffy toucans!

  14. Posted July 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    “Ditto.” Superlative.


  15. ROBIN
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    that is one beautiful bird. wow.

  16. Mike
    Posted July 25, 2015 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    What a stunningly beautiful Bird it compares to some Birds of Paradise.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] today I will add another post about mimicry of plumage colors and patterns in birds, inspired by a comment by Bruce Lyon on Jerry Coyne’s website which discusses my mountain-toucan […]

  2. […] kindly posted my photos of the Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan  (Andigena laminirostris) on his website today. Earlier today I wrote a post about the striking similarity of color patterns in the Plate-billed […]

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